Your browser is unsupported

We recommend using the latest version of IE11, Edge, Chrome, Firefox or Safari.

Nurse Convicted of Gross Neglect of Impaired Patient and Negligent Homicide

On Friday, March 25, 2022, former nurse RaDonda Vaught was convicted of gross neglect[1] of an impaired adult and negligent homicide[2] after injecting a patient with the wrong medication, which led to the patient’s death.[3] Charlene Murphey, the patient, was transferred to Vanderbilt Hospital in December of 2017 after being diagnosed with a subdural hematoma.[4] Murphey suffered from claustrophobia and was prescribed a sedative to help her relax before undergoing a PET scan before release from the hospital.[5]

Vaught attempted to retrieve the medication and when unable to find it disengaged a safeguard allowing access to more powerful drugs. Vaught accidentally pulled vercuronium, a paralyzing agent, from the cabinet and injected Murphey with the drug. By the time the error was realized, [Murphey] had suffered cardiac arrest and partial brain death. Murphey died Dec. 27, 2017.[6]


When Vaught realized she administered the wrong medication, she informed the hospital of her mistake.[7] Vaught was fired by Vanderbilt less than a month after the incident.[8] Additionally, in 2018, “the Tennessee Department of Health declined to pursue disciplinary action against Vaught.”[9] However, when the incident became public, Vaught took responsibility for the medication error and was subsequently indicted for the error.[10] The Tennessee Department of Health then reversed their 2018 decision not to pursue disciplinary action and “charged [Vaught] with three infractions.” Despite taking responsibility for the accidental injection, “Vaught pled not guilty to all charges…Strianse, [Vaught’s attorney,] stated that Vaught made a mistake that should not be categorized as a crime because Vaught had no intent to cause harm.”[12]

During Vaught’s three-day trial, the jury, which included several health care professionals, found that Vaught “failed to adhere to safety protocols that proved to be fatal…[and that] this level of care was so far below the proper standard of a reasonable and prudent nurse that the verdict was justified.” During the trial, Vaught argued the medication error “was made possible by systemic failures at Vanderbilt…[and Vaught was] a ‘disposable person’ who was scapegoated to protect the invaluable reputation of the most prestigious hospital in Tennessee.”[14] On the other hand, the prosecution described Vaught as reckless, arguing “Vaught overlooked several warnings that would have told her she was administering the wrong medicine.”[15] Following Vaught’s conviction, many nurses across the United States have expressed concern for the effect Vaught’s conviction will have on the nursing community.[16]

Typically, when a medical professional is negligent regarding the care of a patient, a medical malpractice lawsuit ensues. Medical malpractice “occurs when a hospital, doctor or other health care professional, through a negligent act or omission, causes an injury to a patient. The negligence might be the result of errors in diagnosis, treatment, aftercare or health management.”[17] In order to pursue a claim for medical malpractice, one must claim the following: [18] Medical malpractice cases are typically tried in civil courts as personal injury cases.[19] Medical malpractice cases are rarely tried as criminal cases; however, criminal litigation can be pursued if a medical professional exhibits gross negligence.[20] Criminal litigation of such cases “is generally reserved for extreme cases of medical malpractice. It must be proven that medical staff was drastically indifferent to their responsibility to care for patients.”[21] In Vaught’s case, the mistaken administration of the paralyzer was used to argue gross negligence and recklessness to pursue criminal litigation.

While the prosecutors said that Vaught’s case “was not a setting case that would result further criminalization of medical errors,”[22] the decision has left the medical community, specifically nurses, feeling uneasy about reporting and making mistakes while on the job.[23] Whether Vaught’s conviction for negligent homicide will result in a shift of medical malpractice cases being tried in criminal courts as opposed to the traditional civil court route is still unknown. During an interview after Vaught’s conviction, Vaught “said she had not considered whether she would appeal.” Vaught will face sentencing on May 13, 2022 where those in opposition to her conviction will march in protest to the jury’s finding of criminally negligent homicide and gross neglect of an impaired adult.[25]

[1] Gross neglect, or gross negligence, is defined as “a conscious neglect of duty or a callous indifference to the consequences.” Thomason v. Wayne County, 611 S.W.2d 585, 587 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1990).

[2] Negligent Homicide, Legal Dictionary (Mar. 19, 2019), []. Negligent homicide is “the killing of another person through reckless or negligent behavior. It differs from other forms of homicide due to the implied lack of malice and intent.” Id.

[3] Brett Kelman, Former Nurse Found Guilty in Accidental Injection Death of 75-Year-Old Patient, NPR (Mar. 25, 2022), []. See also Chloe Folmar, Nurse Convicted of Negligent Homicide After Injection Death of 75-Year-Old, Hill (Mar. 26, 2022), [] (reporting RaDonda Vaught’s guilty conviction).

[4] Kirsten Fiscus, RaDonda Vaught: Key Players in the Case Against Former Nashville Nurse, Nashville Tennessean (Mar. 30, 2022), [].

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Katherine Oung, Former VUMC Nurse RaDonda Vaught Found Guilty for Death of Patient by Accidental Injection, Vand. Hustler (Mar. 31, 2022), [].

[8] Kirsten Fiscus, RaDonda Vaught: Key Players in the Case Against Former Nashville Nurse, Nashville Tennessean (Mar. 30, 2022), [].

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Katherine Oung, Former VUMC Nurse RaDonda Vaught Found Guilty for Death of Patient by Accidental Injection, Vand. Hustler (Mar. 31, 2022), [].

[13] Joe Wenzel & Rebecca Cardenas, Former Vanderbilt Nurse Found Guilty of Criminally Negligent Homicide, KOMU (Mar. 28, 2022), [].

[14] Brett Kelman, In Nurse’s Trial, Witness Says Hospital Bears “Heavy” Responsibility for Patient Death, npr (Mar. 24, 2022), [].

[15] Ashley Perham, Former Nurse RaDonda Vaught Found Guilty in Fatal Drug Mix-Up, Main Street Nashville (Mar. 25, 2022), [].

[16] See Shannon McClendon & Zachary Levine, American Nurses Association Responds to the Trial of Nurse RaDonda Vaught, Am. Nurses Ass’n (Mar. 23, 2022), [] (“Nurses are watching this case and are rightfully concerned that it will set a dangerous precedent. ANA cautions against accidental medical errors being tried in a court of law”). See also Mariah Timms, Nashville DA Says RaDonda Vaught Case Isn’t Against Nursing Community, Nurses Still Worried, Nashville Tennessean (Mar. 28, 2022), [] (reporting concerns the nursing community has as a result of Vaught’s conviction).

[17] What is Medical Malpractice, Am. Board of Professional Liability Attorneys, [] (last visited Apr. 4, 2022).

[18] Id.

[19] Why is Medical Malpractice a Civil Case, and Not a Criminal Case?, Brown & Barron (May 13, 2019), [].

[20] Id.

[21] Id.

[22] Former Tennessee Nurse RaDonda Vaught Found Guilty in Woman’s Death After Accidentally Injecting Her With Wrong Drug, CBS (Mar. 29, 2022), [] [hereinafter Former Tennessee Nurse].

[23] See id. (“Patient safety expert Bruce Lambert [stating that] ‘This will not only cause nurses and doctors to not report medication errors, it will cause nurses to leave the profession.’”). See also Mackenzie Bean, RaDonda Vaught’s Conviction Will Have Long-Lasting Effects on Nursing, ANA Says, Becker’s Hosp. Rev. (Mar. 28, 2022), [] (The nursing association stated, “We are deeply distressed by this verdict and the harmful ramifications of criminalizing the honest reporting of mistake.”).

[24] Former Tennessee Nurse, supra note 18.

[25] Brett Kelman, Why Nurses Are Raging and Quitting After the RaDonda Vaught Verdict, npr (Apr. 5, 2022), [].